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Archive for the ‘Chapter XII: Awaiting the Crozier Party’ Category

Monday, July 17th 1911

Monday, July 17th, 1911

The weather still very unsettled – the wind comes up with a rush to fade in an hour or two. Clouds chase over the sky in similar fashion: the moon has dipped during daylight hours, and so one way and another there is little to attract one out of doors.

Yet we are only nine days off the ‘light value’ of the day when we left off football – I hope we shall be able to recommence the game in that time.

I am glad that the light is coming for more than one reason. The gale and consequent inaction not only affected the ponies, Ponting is not very fit as a consequence – his nervous temperament is of the quality to take this wintering experience badly – Atkinson has some difficulty in persuading him to take exercise – he managed only by dragging him out to his own work, digging holes in the ice. Taylor is another backslider in the exercise line and is not looking well. If we can get these people to run about at football all will be well. Anyway the return of the light should cure all ailments physical and mental.

Sunday, July 16th 1911

Sunday, July 16th, 1911

Another slight alarm this morning. The pony ‘China’ went off his feed at breakfast time and lay down twice. He was up and well again in half an hour; but what on earth is it that is disturbing these poor beasts?

Usual Sunday routine. Quiet day except for a good deal of wind off and on. The Crozier Party must be having a wretched time.

Saturday, July 15th 1911

Saturday, July 15th, 1911

There was strong wind with snow this morning and the wind remained keen and cold in the afternoon, but to-night it has fallen calm with a promising clear sky outlook. Have been up the Ramp, clambering about in my sealskin overshoes, which seem extraordinarily satisfactory.

Oates thinks a good few of the ponies have got worms and we are considering means of ridding them. ‘Bones’ seems to be getting on well, though not yet quite so buckish as he was before his trouble. A good big ventilator has been fitted in the stable. It is not easy to get over the alarm of Thursday night – the situation is altogether too critical.

Friday, July 14th 1911

Friday, July 14th, 1911

We have had a horrible fright and are not yet out of the wood.

At noon yesterday one of the best ponies, ‘Bones,’ suddenly went off his feed – soon after it was evident that he was distressed and there could be no doubt that he was suffering from colic. Oates called my attention to it, but we were neither much alarmed, remembering the speedy recovery of ‘Jimmy Pigg’ under similar circumstances. Later the pony was sent out for exercise with Crean. I passed him twice and seemed to gather that things were well, but Crean afterwards told me that he had had considerable trouble. Every few minutes the poor beast had been seized with a spasm of pain, had first dashed forward as though to escape it and then endeavoured to lie down. Crean had had much difficulty in keeping him in, and on his legs, for he is a powerful beast. When he returned to the stable he was evidently worse, and Oates and Anton patiently dragged a sack to and fro under his stomach. Every now and again he attempted to lie down, and Oates eventually thought it wiser to let him do so. Once down, his head gradually drooped until he lay at length, every now and again twitching very horribly with the pain and from time to time raising his head and even scrambling to his legs when it grew intense. I don’t think I ever realised before how pathetic a horse could be under such conditions; no sound escapes him, his misery can only be indicated by those distressing spasms and by dumb movements of the head turned with a patient expression always suggestive of appeal. Although alarmed by this time, remembering the care with which the animals are being fed I could not picture anything but a passing indisposition. But as hour after hour passed without improvement, it was impossible not to realise that the poor beast was dangerously ill. Oates administered an opium pill and later on a second, sacks were heated in the oven and placed on the poor beast; beyond this nothing could be done except to watch – Oates and Crean never left the patient. As the evening wore on I visited the stable again and again, but only to hear the same tale – no improvement. Towards midnight I felt very downcast. It is so very certain that we cannot afford to lose a single pony – the margin of safety has already been far overstepped, we are reduced to face the circumstance that we must keep all the animals alive or greatly risk failure.

So far everything has gone so well with them that my fears of a loss had been lulled in a growing hope that all would be well – therefore at midnight, when poor ‘Bones’ had continued in pain for twelve hours and showed little sign of improvement, I felt my fleeting sense of security rudely shattered.

It was shortly after midnight when I was told that the animal seemed a little easier. At 2.30 I was again in the stable and found the improvement had been maintained; the horse still lay on its side with outstretched head, but the spasms had ceased, its eye looked less distressed, and its ears pricked to occasional noises. As I stood looking it suddenly raised its head and rose without effort to its legs; then in a moment, as though some bad dream had passed, it began to nose at some hay and at its neighbour. Within three minutes it had drunk a bucket of water and had started to feed.
I went to bed at 3 with much relief. At noon to-day the immediate cause of the trouble and an indication that there is still risk were disclosed in a small ball of semi-fermented hay covered with mucus and containing tape worms; so far not very serious, but unfortunately attached to this mass was a strip of the lining of the intestine.

Atkinson, from a humanly comparative point of view, does not think this is serious if great care is taken with the food for a week or so, and so one can hope for the best.

Meanwhile we have had much discussion as to the first cause of the difficulty. The circumstances possibly contributing are as follows: fermentation of the hay, insufficiency of water, overheated stable, a chill from exercise after the gale – I think all these may have had a bearing on the case. It can scarcely be coincidence that the two ponies which have suffered so far are those which are nearest the stove end of the stable. In future the stove will be used more sparingly, a large ventilating hole is to be made near it and an allowance of water is to be added to the snow hitherto given to the animals. In the food line we can only exercise such precautions as are possible, but one way or another we ought to be able to prevent any more danger of this description.

Dr Simpson at the telephone and Sidereal Clock. July 14th 1911
“Dr Simpson at the telephone and Sidereal Clock. July 14th 1911”

Edward Nelson testing Thermometres. July 14th 1911
“Edward Nelson testing Thermometres. July 14th 1911”

Thursday, July 13th 1911

Thursday, July 13th, 1911

The wind continued to blow throughout the night, with squalls of even greater violence than before; a new record was created by a gust of 77 m.p.h. shown by the anemometer.

The snow is so hard blown that only the fiercest gusts raise the drifting particles – it is interesting to note the balance of nature whereby one evil is eliminated by the excess of another.

For an hour after lunch yesterday the gale showed signs of moderation and the ponies had a short walk over the floe. Out for exercise at this time I was obliged to lean against the wind, my light overall clothes flapping wildly and almost dragged from me; later when the wind rose again it was quite an effort to stagger back to the hut against it.

This morning the gale still rages, but the sky is much clearer; the only definite clouds are those which hang to the southward of Erebus summit, but the moon, though bright, still exhibits a watery appearance, showing that there is still a thin stratus above us.

The work goes on very steadily – the men are making crampons and ski boots of the new style. Evans is constructing plans of the Dry Valley and Koettlitz Glacier with the help of the Western Party. The physicists are busy always, Meares is making dog harness, Oates ridding the ponies of their parasites, and Ponting printing from his negatives.

Science cannot be served by ‘dilettante’ methods, but demands a mind spurred by ambition or the satisfaction of ideals.

Our most popular game for evening recreation is chess; so many players have developed that our two sets of chessmen are inadequate.

Cecil Meares making dog harness. July 13th 1911
“Cecil Meares making dog harness. July 13th 1911”

Cecil Meares making dog harness. July 13th 1911
“Cecil Meares making dog harness. July 13th 1911”

Wednesday, July 12th 1911

Wednesday, July 12th, 1911

All night and to-day wild gusts of wind shaking the hut; long, ragged, twisted wind-cloud in the middle heights. A watery moon shining through a filmy cirrostratus – the outlook wonderfully desolate with its ghostly illumination and patchy clouds of flying snow drift. It would be hardly possible for a tearing, raging wind to make itself more visible. At Wind Vane Hill the anemometer has registered 68 miles between 9 and 10 A.M. – a record. The gusts at the hut frequently exceed 70 m.p.h. – luckily the temperature is up to 5º, so that there is no hardship for the workers outside.

Frank Debenham grinding Geological specimens. July 12th 1911
“Frank Debenham grinding Geological specimens. July 12th 1911”

Frank Debenham grinding Geological specimens. July 12th 1911
“Frank Debenham grinding Geological specimens. July 12th 1911”

Tuesday, July 11th 1911

Tuesday, July 11th, 1911

Never was such persistent bad weather. To-day the temperature is up to 5º to 7º, the wind 40 to 50 m.p.h., the air thick with snow, and the moon a vague blue. This is the fourth day of gale; if one reflects on the quantity of transported air (nearly 4,000 miles) one gets a conception of the transference which such a gale effects and must conclude that potentially warm upper currents are pouring into our polar area from more temperate sources.

The dogs are very gay and happy in the comparative warmth. I have been going to and fro on the home beach and about the rocky knolls in its environment – in spite of the wind it was very warm. I dug myself a hole in a drift in the shelter of a large boulder and lay down in it, and covered my legs with loose snow. It was so warm that I could have slept very comfortably.

I have been amused and pleased lately in observing the manners and customs of the persons in charge of our stores; quite a number of secret caches exist in which articles of value are hidden from public knowledge so that they may escape use until a real necessity arises. The policy of every storekeeper is to have something up his sleeve for a rainy day. For instance, Evans (P.O.), after thoroughly examining the purpose of some individual who is pleading for a piece of canvas, will admit that he may have a small piece somewhere which could be used for it, when, as a matter of fact, he possesses quite a number of rolls of that material.

Tools, metal material, leather, straps and dozens of items are administered with the same spirit of jealous guardianship by Day, Lashly, Oates and Meares, while our main storekeeper Bowers even affects to bemoan imaginary shortages. Such parsimony is the best guarantee that we are prepared to face any serious call.

Monday, July 10th 1911

Monday, July 10th, 1911

We have had the worst gale I have ever known in these regions and have not yet done with it.

The wind started at about mid-day on Friday, and increasing in violence reached an average of 60 miles for one hour on Saturday, the gusts at this time exceeding 70 m.p.h. This force of wind, although exceptional, has not been without parallel earlier in the year, but the extraordinary feature of this gale was the long continuance of a very cold temperature. On Friday night the thermometer registered -39º. Throughout Saturday and the greater part of Sunday it did not rise above -35º. Late yesterday it was in the minus twenties, and to-day at length it has risen to zero.

Needless to say no one has been far from the hut. It was my turn for duty on Saturday night, and on the occasions when I had to step out of doors I was struck with the impossibility of enduring such conditions for any length of time. One seemed to be robbed of breath as they burst on one – the fine snow beat in behind the wind guard, and ten paces against the wind were sufficient to reduce one’s face to the verge of frostbite. To clear the anemometer vane it is necessary to go to the other end of the hut and climb a ladder. Twice whilst engaged in this task I had literally to lean against the wind with head bent and face averted and so stagger crab-like on my course. In those two days of really terrible weather our thoughts often turned to absentees at Cape Crozier with the devout hope that they may be safely housed.

They are certain to have been caught by this gale, but I trust before it reached them they had managed to get up some sort of shelter. Sometimes I have imagined them getting much more wind than we do, yet at others it seems difficult to believe that the Emperor penguins have chosen an excessively wind-swept area for their rookery.

To-day with the temperature at zero one can walk about outside without inconvenience in spite of a 50-mile wind. Although I am loath to believe it there must be some measure of acclimatisation, for it is certain we should have felt to-day’s wind severely when we first arrived in McMurdo Sound.

Friday, July 7th 1911

Friday, July 7th, 1911

The temperature fell to -49º last night – our record so far, and likely to remain so, one would think. This morning it was fine and calm, temperature -45º. But this afternoon a 30-mile wind sprang up from the S.E., and the temperature only gradually rose to -30º, never passing above that point. I thought it a little too strenuous and so was robbed of my walk.

The dogs’ coats are getting pretty thick, and they seem to take matters pretty comfortably. The ponies are better, I think, but I shall be glad when we are sure of having rid them of their pest.

I was the victim of a very curious illusion to-day. On our small heating stove stands a cylindrical ice melter which keeps up the supply of water necessary for the dark room and other scientific instruments. This iron container naturally becomes warm if it is not fed with ice, and it is generally hung around with socks and mits which require drying. I put my hand on the cylindrical vessel this afternoon and withdrew it sharply with the sensation of heat. To verify the impression I repeated the action two or three times, when it became so strong that I loudly warned the owners of the socks, &c., of the peril of burning to which they were exposed. Upon this Meares said, ‘But they filled the melter with ice a few minutes ago,’ and then, coming over to feel the surface himself, added, ‘Why, it’s cold, sir.’ And indeed so it was. The slightly damp chilled surface of the iron had conveyed to me the impression of excessive heat.

There is nothing intrinsically new in this observation; it has often been noticed that metal surfaces at low temperatures give a sensation of burning to the bare touch, but none the less it is an interesting variant of the common fact.

Apropos. Atkinson is suffering a good deal from his hand: the frostbite was deeper than I thought; fortunately he can now feel all his fingers, though it was twenty-four hours before sensation returned to one of them.

Thursday, July 6th 1911

Thursday, July 6th, 1911

The temperature has taken a plunge – to -46º last night. It is now -45º, with a ten-mile breeze from the south. Frostbiting weather!

Went for a short run on foot this forenoon and a longer one on ski this afternoon. The surface is bad after the recent snowfall. A new pair of sealskin overshoes for ski made by Evans seem to be a complete success. He has modified the shape of the toe to fit the ski irons better. I am very pleased with this arrangement.

I find it exceedingly difficult to settle down to solid work just at present and keep putting off the tasks which I have set myself.

The sun has not yet risen a degree of the eleven degrees below our horizon which it was at noon on Midwinter Day, and yet to-day there was a distinct red in the northern sky. Perhaps such sunset colours have something to do with this cold snap.

Petty Officer Evans dressing Dr Atkinson’s Frostbitten hand. July 6th 1911
“Petty Officer Evans dressing Dr Atkinson’s Frostbitten hand. July 6th 1911”